J. Wallis Martin,
The Bird Yard
(Hodder & Stoughton, 1998)

The Bird Yard is a book I wish was poorly written, if only because then I could simply advise against reading it. The trouble is, J. Wallis Martin did a very good job writing the story.

The book begins with a body being found in a house during its demolition. We are then introduced to two of the main characters of the story, Detective Superintendant Parker and Roland Barnes, his primary suspect. The story then shifts back a month to the discovery of another body, the remains of a child on a scaffold in the woods. It continues the story from there, gradually developing the plot up to and beyond the initial demolition scene and to its conclusion.

The main storyline is very grim. It is a story about missing children who are found dead. As the story unfolds you watch Parker chase the lies and coincidences that hint that the two missing children you know about were not the first -- and that, by the time the story is done, they may not be the last. You see a familiar pattern unfolding in the life of Brogan, a young boy Parker meets at the Bird Yard who helps the detective find pieces in the pattern of disappearances.

It is impossible to avoid the darkness of this book. It is in the discovery of the remains of Joey Coyne, the first victim found in the woods, five years after he disappeared. It is in the corpses of two birds trapped between a pair of windows. It is in the Bird Yard, a yard of rare finches which live or die at the whim of Roland Barnes. It is in the fact that, even at the end of the story, Brogan believes Roland was his friend. And, lastly, it is in a tape that will never be released which shows how Joseph Coyne died.

And against this there is a story of hope. There is the story of Murray Hanson, the criminal psychologist Parker gets to help him find out who stole the children. Hanson provides access to key information late in the story that would allow Parker to prove what he knows. He also goes on a personal journey through his past while he stays in the house he lived in when he was married. This journey ends with a new beginning when he returns home.

In the end I find myself struggling to recommend anything other than reading this book maybe once. While it is an interesting book to read, it is very dark, and the more you go through it the more of the darkness you will be forced to see.

[ by Paul de Bruijn ]



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